Date: Fri 16-Oct-1998
(rev "The Playboy of the Western World" @Long Wharf)
Theatre Review: Hughes Works Another Masterpiece At Long Wharf
By Julie Stern
NEW HAVEN -- "On the stage one must have reality and one must have joy," wrote
the playwright John Millington Synge in the preface to his tragi-comic
romantic musical drama, The Playboy of the Western World .
That these twin goals may lie in opposite directions is an underlying truth in
his portrayal of two tumultuous days in the life of a lonely village on the
west coast of Ireland. Long Wharf Theatre is presenting the Irish masterpiece
on its New Haven State through November 1.
The play, which moves with the inexorable irony of a folk ballad, chronicles
the impact of a young fugitive on the lives of the townspeople. Young Christy
Mahon, battered and filthy after 11 days on the road, stumbles into Michael
Flaherty's pub on a stormy night just when Flaherty and his cronies are
setting off for a night of heavy drinking at a local wake.
Begging for temporary shelter, Mahon reveals he has killed his abusive father,
and is running from the law. To his surprise, rather than shock them, his tale
wins respect from the small group that hears it.
He is given food and drink, and offered a job as tavern "pot boy," on the
understanding that he live on the premises and act as protector to Flaherty's
motherless daughter, Pegeen.
By the next morning, washed and rested, Christy begins to emerge as a proper
romantic hero, showing a gift for poetry as he recounts the loneliness of his
hard life and his joy in the beauty of nature. He also falls heavily in love
with Pegeen, and dreams of the warmth and comfort of a life with her.
Soon his story spreads through the town and he is besieged by curious
visitors. A sophisticated older woman, the Widow Quin, makes a play for his
affections, and passion is ignited in the heart of the spirited Pegeen, as she
readily dumps her longtime suitor.
Pressed by everyone to enter the local Sports Day competition, where he
triumphs in every test of strength and skill, the "Playboy" is about to claim
his due rewards when who should turn up but his father. His head is bloody and
bandaged, but the bullying old brute is anything but dead, and he is
determined to take revenge on his rebellious child.
The events that follow are as troubling as they are unexpected. As they
portray the fickle impetuosity of mob behavior, they elevate the play to a new
level of seriousness and sadness as it deals with the sources of courage and
its limitations in people who would rather be bitter and lonely than risk the
honesty of love.
With the bony handsomeness of a young Sean Penn, Jim True expands the
dimensions of Christy's character. Martha Plimpton's Pegeen has the flashing
temper and will that must be tamed before she can love, and Pamela Nyberg is
both wise and devious as the Widow Quin.
With a haunting background of traditional Irish music played by a quartet
looming above the stage, and an absolutely mesmerizing riot of a fight scene
staged by choreographer Robin MacFarquhar, The Playboy is riveting and
Long Wharf Director Doug Hughes has brought this play from Chicago, where he
directed it for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company as part of his policy of
working jointly with top repertory groups across the country. As with the
other Irish play with which Hughes opened last year's season ( She Stoops to
Conquer ), he shows once again how much he has energized the Long Wharf, and
how exciting a year subscribers can expect.